There was quite a bit of relief on all sides today that we were finally able to talk to Fernando Alonso about being a Ferrari driver and get proper answers out of him, instead of ‘Wait and see”.
To listen to him and Ferrari boss Stefano Domenicali today, we were told that they had agreed a deal during the summer for Alonso to come to the team in 2011, but then when Renault got themselves embroiled in the Singapore carsh fixing scandal, the opportunity opened up to make the move a year early.
Alonso said, “Something wonderful changed,” which hardly describes Renault’s situation over Singapore, while Kimi Raikkonen implied that the something wonderful had to do with the intervention of Santander bank as a major Ferrari sponsor for the next five years. Domenicali denied this.
Either way, Alonso was talking to the team about going there in 2011 and he’s gone a year early which is pretty much the scenario as has been laid out for the last nine months.
There was a huge crowd of media around him today in the paddock. Of the three principal characters in this story, he was the first to speak, at 2-30pm local time, then it was Raikkonen at 4pm and then Domenicali at 5pm.
Alonso was very casually dressed and had not shaved. He clearly wanted to give the impression that this was just a normal day. He was not triumphant, he was his usual serious self. He was modest when asked whether he was a great driver, trotting out the line that he had been lucky to drive some competitive cars in his career and he had just taken the opportunity they offered him.
It was good to hear from him what the Ferrari move means. He cannot say he dreamed of it since childhood because he dreamed of McLaren, but he could say what it feels like to carry not just the hopes of the Spanish nation but also the Italian nation as well,
“It feels good, I think, at the moment. We’ll see next year if the results hopefully are good. But Ferrari is not only about Italy, but there are fans all over the world. Wherever you go on holiday, you’re likely to see some tourists there with a Ferrari cap. I can feel this and it’s great to feel it because you realise that it is more than one team.”
He also trotted out the line that Raikkonen has used on many occasions that he will see out his career at Ferrari,
” I really think that Ferrari will be my last team, as I said, leaving Ferrari to change teams is a step backwards. Ferrari is more than a team and I want to finish my career there.”
There is obviously an implied barb there at Raikkonen, who is leaving Ferrari and is therefore taking a step backwards in Alonso’s view. Did he mean it that way? Hard to say. Equally was he thinking of Raikkonen when he answered on what he hoped to bring to Ferrari,
“Hopefully I can give to them the maximum performance in the car, from a driving point of view and outside the car I can be part of the team and be as professional as possible and to try and help the team produce the best car and give the best performance. I think all the drivers try to do this and sometimes you succeed.”
Again no way of knowing. He played it straight but as always with Alonso, if you look carefully at what he says there is always a message there.
I asked Chris Dyer, who is the head of trackside engineering at Ferrari, whether they would change their working language now that they have two fluent Italian speakers as drivers. He said no, because there are engineers of other nationalities, like German, who do not speak the language. It will be interesting to see whether that changes over time. Both Dyer and Rob Smedley speak Italian, but perhaps not well enough to conduct briefings and debriefings in the language.
Alonso denied that he would be bringing any engineers with him to the team and Domenicali confirmed this, at the same time making the point that the numbers being quoted for Alonso’s salary are way more than the reality.
Drivers are subject to the budget restrictions too, he asserted and the days of the huge money retainers are over. On that basis Alonso will probably earn half of what Raikkonen has been paid these past three seasons.
Domenicali was also very keen to point out that there is nothing special in Alonso’s contract which gives him any kind of number one status or preferential treatment. He has the same contract as Massa.
The focus now turns to the next Ferrari car and you can sense the pressure the team are feeling; the design department has got to deliver them a good car for next year.